Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug misuse and abuse has been increasing over the years. Drugs available by prescription are thought of as "harmless" by many people. However, misused prescriptions can be extremely harmful. Prescriptions are drugs and can have addictive qualities that rival those of drugs available on the street when not used under the care of a physician. There are three major types of prescription drugs:


Depressants are medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. They are abused for their sedating properties. With abuse of the drugs, depressants can cause tolerance, dependence, and addiction. The withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are two classes of depressants and both and formulated in short and long acting formulas.

Generally Prescribed: For sedative and calming properties.

Specifically Prescribed for the Treatment Of: Anxiety and sleep disorders

Misused or Abused: For effects similar to alcohol intoxication, sedative effects, to augment a "high" or alter the side effects from the use of another substance.

Depressants should not be combined with any other depressants (prescription pain medicines, some cold and allergy medications, and alcohol). Combining these substances, particularly with alcohol, can slow both the heart and respiration and may lead to death.

Consequences of Abuse

If one uses these drugs long term, the body will develop tolerance for the drugs, and larger doses will be needed to achieve the same initial effects. Continued use can lead to physical dependence and - when use is reduced or stopped - withdrawal. Because all CNS depressants work by slowing the brain's activity, when an individual stops taking them, the brain's activity can rebound and race out of control, potentially leading to seizures and other harmful consequences.

  • Heroin and cocaine abusers use benzodiazepines and other depressants to augment their "high" or alter the side effects associated with over-stimulation or narcotic withdrawal.

  • Rohypnol is a strong sedative available by prescription in other countries, but it's use is illegal in the United States. It has been seen in drug-facilitated sexual assault. Street terms include "roofies" and "roach pills."


In the past, stimulants were used to treat respiratory problems such as asthma, obesity, and neurological disorders. But as the possibility for abuse and addiction became apparent, the medical use of stimulants began to decline. Today, stimulants are prescribed for the treatment of only a few health conditions, including narcolepsy, ADHD, and some forms of depression. Stimulants are misused and abused because of their energizing and euphoric effects.

Generally Prescribed: to reverse the effects of mental and physical fatigue (increased alertness, awareness, and energy).

Specifically Prescribed for Treatment Of: narcolepsy, attention deficit disorders, and some forms of depression.

Misused or Abused: for reduction in appetite, prolonged wakefulness, increased performance, or to plainly "get high or altered."

Stimulants should net be used in combination with other stimulants or OTC decongestants - combining these may cause blood pressure to become dangerously high or lead to irregular heart rhythms.

Consequences of Abuse

As with other drugs of abuse, it is possible for individuals to become dependent upon or addicted to many stimulants. Withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing stimulant use include fatigue, depression, and disturbance of sleep patterns. Repeated use of some stimulants over a short period can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia. further, taking high doses of a stimulant may result in dangerous high body temperature and an irregular heartbeat. There is also the potential for cardiovascular failure or lethal seizures.


Also known as analgesics or narcotics, opioids are drugs that are prescribed for moderate to severe physical pain. They are abused because of their euphoric, sedative, and numbing effects. Opioid abuse causes tolerance and dependence and the withdrawal symptoms from use are severe.

Generally Prescribed: for the relief of mild to severe physical pain.

Specifically Prescribed for Treatment Of: pain relief from injury, post-operative pain, chronic pain, cancer-related pain, and anesthesia.

Misused or Abused: for their euphoric and sedative effects, or to plainly "get high or altered."

Opioids should not be used in combination with alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or general anesthetics because these combinations increase the rick of life-threatening respiratory depression.

Consequences of Abuse

Many studies have shown that properly managed, short-term medical use of opioid analgesic drugs is safe and rarely causes addiction or dependence, which occurs when the body adapts to the presence of a drug, and often results in withdrawal symptoms when that drug is reduced or stopped. Withdrawal symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps ("cold turkey"), and involuntary leg movements. Long-term use of opioids can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Taking a large single dose of an opioid could cause severe respiratory depression that can lead to death.